"Our results suggest that anemia is an independent risk factor for physical decline, which puts older adults at higher risk for nursing home admission, disability and death," said Brenda Penninx, Ph.D., associate professor of gerontology. "Future research should explore whether the treatment of late-life anemia helps preserve physical function."
Researchers measured whether anemia was related to physical performance over a four-year period. Anemia, which is a reduced level of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, affects about 13 percent of people over age 70. It has a variety of causes, from iron or vitamin B-12 deficiencies to chronic diseases such as cancer or liver disease.
The study involved 1,146 adults age 71 and older. The researchers measured physical performance using tests of standing balance, walking speed and ability to rise from a chair. Previous studies illustrated that these tests can predict the likelihood of nursing home admission, mortality, hospitalization and later disability.
Penninx and colleagues found that in participants with anemia, the mean decline in physical performance was 2.3 points on a 12-point scale. For those without anemia, the mean decline was 1.4 points.
"Participants with anemia were 2.1 times more likely than non-anemic subjects to decline substantially in performance, which we defined as a three-point decline over four years," said Penninx. "Subjects with borderline anemia were 1.5 times more likely to have a substantial decline."
A three-point, or 25 percent, decline in physical performance has been shown to increase the risk of hospitalization by 150 percent, the risk of nursing home administration by 200 percent a
Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center